Authorities in Saudi Arabia say they will seek the death penalty for five people who have been accused of carrying out the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
The latest Saudi account on Thursday was almost immediately dismissed as inadequate by Turkish officials, while the United States moved to sanction 17 Saudis it said were involved in the October 2 killing.
Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Shaalan al-Shaalan, Saudi Arabia’s deputy public prosecutor, said “the incident” began on September 29 when a “former” deputy chief of intelligence ordered the “leader of the mission” to “bring back the victim by means of persuasion, and if persuasion fails, to do so by force”.
While the prosecutor’s office did not give names, General Ahmad al-Assiri, who was fired as deputy head of intelligence in the wake of the killing, has been implicated in the killing.
The mission leader – also not named – then put together a 15-member team to “return” the journalist from Turkey.
The team included a forensics expert “for the purpose of removing evidence from the scene” and a local collaborator tasked with securing a safe house “in case force had to be used to return the victim”.
Al-Shalaan said that on the morning of October 2, the leader of the negotiating team saw that he would not be able to force Khashoggi to return, “so he decided to kill him in the moment.”
The 59-year-old then died from a lethal injection – the official cause of death is listed as a drug overdose – and his body was dismembered and taken out of the building, he said.
The body parts were “delivered” to the local collaborator and another man put on Khashoggi’s clothes and posed as the journalist exiting the consulate.
According to Saudi investigators, the cameras inside the consulate were disabled during the drugging and dismemberment of Khashoggi.
Al-Shaalan said 21 people were now in custody, with 11 indicted and referred to trial, adding that Saud al-Qahtani, a former adviser to the royal court, had been banned from travelling and remained under investigation.
The prosecution is seeking the death penalty for five officials who gave the orders and oversaw the execution of the murder.
Al-Shaalan said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, was not implicated in the gruesome murder that has triggered global outrage. Later on Thursday, Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, reiterated that the crown prince had “absolutely” nothing to do with Khashoggi’s death.
Turkish dismissal, US sanctions
Khashoggi, a critic of MBS’s supposed reform programme, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain a document certifying his divorce.
Saudi authorities had initially stated the journalist left the consulate, before backtracking and admitting on October 20 he was killed by “rogue” operatives.
Turkish officials have said it is unlikely Khashoggi could have been killed without the knowledge of MBS, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying the orders came from “the highest levels of the Saudi government.”
According to the New York Times, a member of the Saudi team that killed Khashoggi made a phone call shortly after his death, instructing someone in Saudi Arabia to “tell your boss” that the assassination had been carried out.
The Saudi announcement on Thursday failed to appease Turkish officials, who insist the killing and its cover-up were carried out by the highest levels of government.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, criticised the Saudi announcement as “insufficient” and insisted the killing was “premeditated.”
“Turkish law is applicable in this case, even though the murder took place in the Saudi consulate,” he said, demanding that all the suspects be extradited and “tried in accordance with Turkish law”.
Later on Thursday, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials for their role in the killing.
Among those sanctioned were Saud al-Qahtani, who has been removed from his position as a top aide to MBS, as well as the Saudi Consul-General Mohammed al-Otaibi and members of the 15-member team.
‘No faith’ in Saudi judiciary
Bill Law, a journalist and Middle East analyst, told Al Jazeera that despite not being implicated, there was “enormous pressure” accumulating on MBS, and Turkey could demand an international probe into the journalist’s murder.
“Just yesterday, Lindsey Graham described him [MBS] as unreliable and unstable.
“Graham, a senior Republican senator, and Bob Corker, the chair of the foreign relations committee, have called for an immediate end to the arms deals that the US has [with Saudi Arabia] in the Yemen war and has also said that as far as he’s concerned, Mohammed bin Salman is the person responsible,” Law said.
“[Erdogan] will keep up the demand for an international investigation. It is clear that no one has any faith in the Saudis investigating effectively, Mohammed bin Salman investigating himself nor in the Saudi judicial system.
“It’s a pressure point that Erdogan can continue to push on and I think he will do that.”